We caught up with musician and singer-songwriter Emma Blackery to talk about her upcoming album ‘Villains’, the plights of the social media star, and her evolution as an artist. Check out her breakout single ‘Agenda’ below, and catch her live on her extensive European tour this Autumn.
Hi Emma! So you could say you’ve had a pretty busy year what with releasing three new singles and announcing (and preparing for) your debut album and European tour culminating in a night at London’s KOKO on October 25th. Can you tell us a bit about this era and what we can expect from it?
My upcoming album is by far the most personal piece of work I’ve ever released. I can only ever write from personal experiences, but for these songs, I really had to dig deep into some personal issues that were very raw for me to address. There are some darker moments on the album, but I’m a sucker for happy-sounding songs that address sadder feelings. I’m so proud of the album’s sound. Every song is completely different, but to me they flow perfectly and tell the story I’ve wanted to put out there for a long time.
I know you have been pulling away from the title of YouTuber but just one question… do you think that ultimately having that pre-existing platform has been helpful in developing and promoting yourself as an artist or in hindsight do you wish you had started as a musician and a musician only? Are you ever tempted to walk away from YouTube completely?
I’d never try and disregard the work I put into building an online platform. There are pros and cons to forming an outreach for your music via other means – without the ability to create freely without the commitment of a full-time office job, I highly doubt so many people would be hearing my music. It can be so hard finding your way via traditional means. If you don’t have contacts in the industry, you can’t make it. The industry is filled with gatekeepers. It takes a long time to find people who get what you want to do, and who want to help you. So in that, sure, I’ve had it ‘easier’, but I’ve had to bust my ass posting videos and putting my entire life online for six full years. It can be tough, no matter how much people want to disregard it in comparison to ‘real jobs’. There’s little to no point ‘wishing’ to change what got me here. I’m not sure how many people know this, but I did start on YouTube as a musician, only for other paths to take off first, which I then used to promote my music later on down the line. I’ve been consistently posting music alongside other content on my channel for all of those six years. Music has always been where my heart lies. I’ve been tempted to quit YouTube pretty much on a weekly basis since I started, simply because of the pressure that is put on creators as people to be these perfect specimens. Every YouTuber thinks about quitting. Some actually do. It would be wrong for me to promise I’ll be on the platform forever, but so long as I can engage with people who care about what I create, I’ll go where I need to.
You documented the song writing process of your new album very closely, and it’s clear to see that you are an artist who is involved in every stage of the creation process. Can you talk us through the development of ‘Agenda’?
I have an entire video about it on my channel that goes into much greater detail than I ever could in writing, but I wrote it at my home studio, with a pretty specific idea of how I wanted it to sound. I took it to my producer, and we worked on it for weeks. At first, we struggled to really capture the unique vibe we knew it needed, but one day, it all fell into place effortlessly, and it felt like such a weight was lifted from our shoulders.
The three new tracks that we have heard suggest that your sound has changed dramatically since the age of Sucks to Be You and Perfect. Do you feel like your newest project is a truer representation of your sound? How do you feel about your musical evolution?
I think calling it a ‘truer’ representation would be to imply that the sound I had with my previous work wasn’t genuine to what I wanted at the time. It absolutely was. I wrote what I loved, which is what I still do. Some people have been critical of me ‘going pop’ and ‘changing direction’ but I don’t have it in me to write and release music that I’m not 100% in love with. I write what I enjoy. During the past releases I was much more into pop-punk, hence why I wrote it. Over the years, I’ve found myself reigniting my love for pop music, and wanted to add to the genre that made me happiest. If I wasn’t happy or proud of that choice, I wouldn’t be releasing my album. I wouldn’t have put my own money into it.
You obviously have a very large social media platform which means that you are a target of constant attention – both good and bad. Does the negative feedback / trolling that you receive have an effect on you or have you created coping mechanisms to help with always being on ‘display’?
Of course it has an effect. If you put yourself online for a living, it means that you like yourself enough to want to ‘give’ it to everyone at home watching you. If you care that much about yourself, you care what people think of you. Basically, all artists and content creators have egos, and hurtful comments can get to us. Some more than others, of course, but yeah, it’s hard. I don’t want to really dwell on it, or think about how I ‘cope’ with it. I just try to throw myself into work and surround myself with people who support me. There will always be critics, especially with music. Not everyone will like what you make, but then, you don’t enjoy every single song in the world, so why try to force others to like you?
Who Influences and inspires you as an artist? Have these artists changed as you have developed as an artist?
My influences change all of the time. By the time this is published, I’ll probably be listening to someone new. If your influences don’t change, then neither do you.
And finally… if you could give one piece of advice to someone just starting out in the music industry what would it be?
It’s all smoke and mirrors. It’s not the place you thought it was when you were a kid with a dream of being on a big stage. It’s hard. You need to talk to everybody, be humble, be prepared for blunt feedback, because the time of music industry executives is precious. Be prepared to work, don’t expect labels to come running around you and to fight over you if you are just standing there waiting for it. Make contacts, put in the time and work, and remember that people will remember how you treated them when you first met.
Matilda Feeney-Mellor | WRITER